A Brief History of Haiti
The story of Haiti is unique. It is a country whose population was created by the kidnapping and enslavement of hundreds of thousands of Africans by Spain and France in the 17th and 18th centuries. The descendants of these slaves are the people of Haiti today — there has been virtually no voluntary immigration. It is a land of great misery and poverty, populated by people of amazing strength and spirit, a spirit that inspires and astounds those who have experienced their gentle nature.
Various native groups of the Caribbean inhabited the island of Hispanola for centuries prior to its “discovery” by Columbus in 1492. It is here, on the island that was later to become the Dominican Republic and Haiti, that he first landed. The native population was soon entirely eliminated through warfare and the introduction of European diseases ... then came slavery.
Hispanola was an island of splendid rain forests and fertile plains requiring thousands of slaves to work the sugar cane and other farming industries. The forests were gradually eliminated over the years by lumbering, thus exposing the mountainsides to irreversible erosion. Today, Haiti is environmentally devastated, its remaining scrub forests being consumed for cooking fuel and its fisheries non-existent.
Spain and France divided Hispanola in the early 1700s, the western 1/3 became Haiti, ruled by the French. Enslavement of the Africans continued until history took a strange turn; the slaves revolted in 1804, creating the first black republic. Unfortunately for the Haitians, her dominant neighbor, the United States, still condoned slavery. Haitian freedom could not be recognized — they were isolated (and still are) from partnership in world affairs.
Northern and southern Haiti initially developed as 2 separate entities, ruled by all-powerful Haitian emperors. For the past 200 years, foreign commercial interests have continued to control Haiti’s economy, creating a very small and dominant upper class and a vast peasantry. Haiti exists as a single political entity today, having experienced dozens of leaders and dictators, each one replaced by coup d’etat.
The United States actually occupied Haiti from 1915 through 1934 in the interests of commercial control, killing thousands of “rebels” in the process. Haiti, today, has no significant health care for its poorest — almost all is delivered by missionary projects. Food is largely imported, donated by the UN and other foreign philanthropies, and because of foreign embargoes (U.S. embargoes have been particularly devastating) virtually no industry or infrastructure exists.
In early 2004, another “uprising” of discontent occurred which ousted then President Aristede, to be replaced by yet another government. At the moment, things are peaceful, but at least 75% of Haiti’s people remain unemployed and continue to live in the poorest country (by far) in the Western Hemisphere. Haiti is now considered to be one of the “least developing” of all the Third World countries.
Through all of this, the energetic peaceful spirit of the Haitian people survives. One day at a time…